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Julian Sturdy - Strong Voice for York Outer

Julian Sturdy

Member of Parliament for York Outer

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July 5, 2020

Julian Sturdy is backing a campaign by  Rachel Roche, the award winning York based solicitor, to change the way wills are witnessed to bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, Ireland and France who have introduced relaxed rules to allow them to be witnessed online during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With an estimated 30-40 per cent increase in people wanting to complete their Will and Lasting Power of Attorney in the face of the pandemic, Rachel is being supported by Julian Sturdy MP in calling on the Government to bring in a special dispensation to make it easier to sign these key documents. The easing of social distancing measures are coming into effect, but the signing of wills under the current regulations – first set out in 1837 – continues to create problems.

Julian said: “It is vital that ill and older people are still able to put their affairs in order in these disrupted times, without taking risks with their health by meeting more people than they have to.

I therefore support this proposal as a practical response to the current situation, that will help bring peace of mind to many households.

The fact this proposed change is already operational within the United Kingdom, and in our two closest neighbours is strong evidence that it can work.

I hope the government will give this very serious consideration.”

In March the Law Society of Scotland issued temporary practical guidance taking account of suggestions that instructions can be taken over a video conference call. In Ireland, Skype, FaceTime and email will be used by solicitors to draw up wills for their clients because of Covid-19 restrictions while in France they have approved the use of e-signature and video signing.

At present the England and Wales law states there must be two witnesses to the actual signing of a will which under the current lockdown is a major problem. However, The Law Society and the Ministry of Justice are discussing ways to deformalize the signing of wills and to make it quicker to register lasting powers of attorney.

As a key worker, Rachel is continuing to visit bed-bound clients who need wills and Last Power of Attorney signed at this difficult time. She is following the lockdown advice and is taking it case by case but in some situations there is no option but to be there rather than handling it remotely.

John Kitching at French Law Consultancy Limited has particular expertise in the situation across the Channel and explained: “Notaires are currently accepting probate powers of attorney without them being witnessed, as long as we have confirmed to the Notaires that we have explained the document to our client, and they provide signed and dated proof of identity. For matters involving a sale of a French property, some Notaires are  accepting  powers of attorney witnessed by video call, with title documents signed by Electronic signature. We find it interesting that Will witnessing is a logistical problem in the UK, but in France the standard basic commonplace holographic Will solves this problem, as these types of Wills don’t need to be witnessed at all.”

Rachel believes the lockdown restrictions have changed attitudes to online meetings and added: “I am optimistic generally regarding the outcome of COVID-19 not least because clients and others will now be more receptive to holding meetings remotely which can be more efficient and better for the environment than travelling. This is a time for law firm owners to be brave and make decisions that we know are for the best.”